With any outdoor activity, wearing the right clothing is of the utmost importance and wildlife photography is no different. Knowing what to wear will enable you to stay out longer in search of wildlife, giving you a better chance of capturing those amazing moments in your images.
When pulling together a system of outdoor clothing, you’re going to want to work with layers. Starting off at the base layer, work with a wicking layer that’s tight to your skin, yet will remove any perspiration quickly and efficiently. Merino wool is the best choice, as it’s featherweight with exceptional warmth and wicking capabilities, offering a great first layer that helps keep you comfortable.
Moving up you’ll want an insulation layer in colder conditions, or a standard outer layer in warmer weather. A good fleece jacket will help keep you toasty in most situations, with more advanced models offering features such as pit zips and ventilation panels to keep you cooler when on the move.
For warmer weather an expedition shirt or similar will offer you good protection from sunburn, as well as covering you to keep you cooler.
For your legs, a good set of expedition trousers will keep you covered in most cases. I have pairs from Fjallraven and The North Face, both offering sturdy waterproof and strong construction to keep me warm and dry in a variety of conditions.
Depending on the conditions, you may need a couple of outer jackets. I have three - a softshell, waterproof and down…
My favourite, due to being warm, comfortable and providing the best compromise for everyday use. Softshell jackets are engineered to protect you from wind, as well as giving you light protection from rain and snow. Not fully waterproof, they’re often only water resistant, but for most conditions when it’s not pouring they’ll stand up to a light shower. Softshell jackets’ best feature is that due to the material they don't rustle, making them quiet and unobtrusive - perfect for wildlife photography.
Of course, when it rains you need a waterproof and if you’re going to be out in the wet for extended periods, you’ll want a good one. Gore-Tex offers the best in class performance and comes in a range of styles, from heavy to superlight jackets. Lightweight ones are great for keeping pack sizes small, but do remember that if you're crawling around on the ground and pushing your way through bushes and thicket, they’re more likely to be damaged. Unlike softshells, waterproof jackets do have a tendency to make quite a lot of noise when you move in them, something to keep in mind if you’re stalking wildlife.
When conditions are brutally cold you’ll want to turn to down. Natural feathers provide excellent loft, trapping warm air for the best warmth-retaining properties. Excellent for conditions where you’re sitting still for long periods, down jackets are a blessing for hide work and cold conditions. Be wary, however, that down starts to lose its warmth in the wet, so keeping your jacket dry with a waterproof outer is often required in cold, damp conditions.
Keeping your extremities warm is often the hardest challenge. Once again, working with layers can help for both hands and feet. Using thin liner socks and gloves, paired with a set of outer, warmer and thicker layers, you can trap warm air between the layers to help keep your hands and feet warm. In really cold weather I use mittens, as they offer the best way to retain warmth in your hands by keeping the fingers closer together, with less surface area to lose heat. Of course, a hat goes without saying - I regularly wear liner gloves and a hat in summer to keep the midges off, as well as helping to conceal myself from my subjects.
When choosing clothing you've also got to think about blending into the environment. Technical mountaineering gear will keep you warm, but bright oranges and reds don’t always go hand and hand with wildlife photography. Now, before you all get carried away and gear up like the army, full camo isn't needed - drab greens, greys and browns will be more than enough to help you blend in. Remember, the way you move and act will have far more of an impact, but keeping away from reds and neon yellows will certainly help.
Hopefully, the above will give you a good idea of the basic clothing for wildlife photography. Being comfortable is a key consideration, as the longer you can stand the elements, the more likely you are to catch up with your subjects.
Tom Mason is one of the UK’s most exciting young wildlife photographers and conservationists. He leads workshops and seminars and writes a monthly blog for the RSPB. See more of his work here.